"You can expect physical play and quickness from TCU," said BYU center Dallas Reynolds. "They're very aggressive and one of the best defenses in the nation. With that being said, it's going to be a challenge."
TCU's defensive scheme is primarily a 4-2-5 base where the flexibility comes from the extra safety that's moved around to different locations. During TCU's victory over CSU last Saturday, a linebacker often moved up on the defensive line while a safety moved up into the linebacker's position.
"The type of scheme they run goes back to the basic type of defense," said Reynolds. "It's not quite as unique as what we faced against New Mexico. It's a 4-2-5 type of a defense and they like to do things schematically like UCLA does a little bit, so we're going to go back to what we've been seeing most of the year. They run some schemes and formations that are similar to what we've already faced with UCLA, but TCU is their own defense and they do things that are unique to TCU. They do like to bring down a safety into the box to try and crowd the box a little bit."
The TCU defensive coaches like to run different variations of the 4-2-5 defense depending on the down and distance. One reason why TCU's defense has been so successful is because the 11 best players are always on the field regardless of the changes in their formations.
"You'll get a 4-2-5 or a 4-3-4 and even sometimes a 4-4-3, where they like to stack the box," said Reynolds. "I think one of the reasons why they've been successful is because they can leave the same players out on the field and change it up. They don't have to bring guys out and bring other guys in to make up for the change in their formations. On top of that I think they're very fast and very well coached. I think those are some of the reasons why their defense has had so much success this year."
No matter what the number of personnel is up front, the type of defense the Horned Frogs run is a type of defense the Cougars have faced and have prepared for since the beginning of the season. The Cougar offensive line will face a more traditional front than what they faced during the New Mexico game.
"[Facing a more traditional front] kind of helps us and makes it easier on us, given the fact that this is a short week of preparation," said Reynolds. "I think in terms of preparing for the New Mexico defense, that was something we had to get used to because it's something different. Now we can kind of go back and get ready for something that we're more used to."
TCU's interior linemen possess size and experience. Starting for the Horned Frogs are 6-foot-1-inch, 292-pound senior Cody Moore and 6-foot-3-inch, 282-pound senior James Vess. Behind Moore and Vess are 5-foot-10-inch, 270-pound senior John Fonua and 6-foot-1-inch, 280-pound sophomore Kelly Griffin.
"They have a combination of both physical and finesse on their defense," Reynolds said. "Their inside guys are more physical. They come in at around the 290-pound area as defensive tackles, so they're the type of tackles that want to plug up the middle and tie up the interior of the offensive line."
Although former TCU standout linemen Chase Ortiz and Tommy Blake have moved on, the Horned Frogs have two very capable defensive ends that have stepped in. Coming in at 6 feet 2 inches and 248 pounds is junior Jerry Hughes, who saw action is 13 games last season. The other starting defensive end is 6-foot-2-inch, 245-pound senior Matt Panfil, who started in six games last season while Tommy Blake was on medical leave.
"As you move towards the outside, those guys aren't quite as big and physical, but they're quick off the edge," said Reynolds. "They like to use more speed coming off the edge to try and get the offensive tackles out of position, and they have different moves that they use on the outside in comparison to the inside guys. Overall they have a good defensive front."
Meanwhile, the linebackers are a major area of strength for the Horned Frog defense. Jason Phillips, a 6-foot-1-inch, 234-pound senior, was a First-Team All-MWC selection in 2006. After leading his team in tackles in 2007, he was a Second-Team All-MWC selection and was named the best linebacker in Texas by Dave Campbell's Texas Football publication. Phillips is on the Bronko Nagurski, Dick Butkus and Rotary Lombardi Award watch lists.
"Their defensive front [is] big, strong and fast," Reynolds said. "They have linebackers that are fast flow-type guys. It's going to be a challenge facing those guys up front, but I think we're ready for whatever they try and throw at us."
Along with Phillips, the Horned Frog defense also has 6-foot-1-inch, 228-pound senior linebacker Robert Henson. Henson was an Honorable-mention All-MWC selection each of the past three seasons and is also on the Dick Butkus Award watch list.
"They're finesse-type players that flow well to the ball," Reynolds said. "They have a lot of experience at the position and play very aggressive. [Phillips] is a tough run stopper and has very good lateral movement. Their other linebacker, [Henson], isn't quite a big but has very good instincts."
TCU's secondary is also full of talented players. Junior cornerback Rafael Priest is a 5-foot-10-inch, 163-pound speedster. In 2007 he tied for the team lead in interceptions with three and led the team with 10 pass breakups, helping him earn an Honorable-mention All-MWC selection. College Football News named Rafael as the 20th best cornerback in the nation.
Another stellar performer in the TCU secondary is 6-foot, 212-pound senior Stephen Hodge, who is currently ranked third on the team in tackles. In 2007 Hodge led the nation in sacks by a defensive back with eight.
"From what I remember last year they close very fast," said Cougar receiver Austin Collie regarding TCU's secondary. "They play very fast and flow quickly to the ball. They're a combination of both physical and finesse play. The physical nature of their players is what has made them a very good secondary. In that regards they'll probably be the best we've seen yet."
The type of coverage the Horned Frogs play is familiar to the Cougars.
"They like to run a lot of match coverage and zero coverage defense," said Collie. "The zero coverage is a man-to-man defense. The match coverage defense is when they have four guys guarding three, and then on the other side you have three guys guarding two, making sure they funnel everything outside. They try to keep everything on the outside and make sure nothing comes inside. They like to double up on one of the guys. It's a defense we've seen before, especially with UCLA last year. It's something we know and we're prepared and will do what we need to."